Arkansas: Arkansas high court allows Sam's Club liquor sales
A Sam's Club in Fayetteville can operate a liquor store adjoining its retail operation, potentially allowing other department store chains to follow suit, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The ruling could strike a blow at package stores throughout Arkansas, who argued before the court that state law prohibits liquor sellers from operating any drug, sporting goods or grocery store inside their operations. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board granted the store's liquor license in 2007.
However, justices rejected that claim by the Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association, noting that a separate business entity operates the liquor store, which is walled off from the rest of the Sam's Club.
"As the facts show, substantial evidence supports the board's decision," the court's opinion by Chief Justice Jim Hannah reads. "We cannot say that the board's interpretation and application ... is clearly wrong."
Wal-Mart, based in nearby Bentonville, has previously said it had no plans to open liquor stores at its other Arkansas locations. Company spokeswoman Michelle Bradford said Thursday that she didn't know whether the world's largest retailer had changed its mind on that stance.
"We're pleased with the court's decision and we look forward to continuing to serve our customers in northwest Arkansas," Bradford said.
Charles R. Singleton, a Little Rock lawyer representing the package stores, said the court's deference to Alcohol Control Board meant other stores could follow the example set by Wal-Mart.
"I think this opens the doors to other entities getting into the business," Singleton said. "As I told the court, we're not just talking about a Sam's Club, we're talking about all these other big box stores wanting to be in that business."
However, a state law bars liquor sellers from having more than one permit, potentially offering some protection to package stores. Singleton also acknowledged his clients could ask legislators to change state law to stop big-box stores from entering the liquor business.
Under Arkansas law, hard liquor like whiskey and vodka must be sold at package stores. However, grocery stores and convenience stores can obtain a permit to sell beer.
JON GAMBRELL Source:Associated Press
- April 09,2009